A well built and aesthetically pleasing deck is something that is almost a universal symbol of relaxation and leisure. I think it’s also true that everyone wants to be on a safe deck. In order to understand decks we can use the terms “it meets code” or “it’s solidly built by ‘so-and-so’ whose been building this way for twenty years”. Regardless of feelings about decks, until 2006 there was a gulf between the builder, deck and the code. Building Code specified design characteristics like “Lateral railing must resist at least 200 p.s.f..” another way of saying the guardrail needs to stop the weight of a falling adult. The code however offered no proscriptive or approved method to reach the design standards. What ended up happening was well intentioned contractors mostly guessed in conjunction with building officials (I’m almost exclusively referring to new construction, there are virtually no deck inspections even when a permit is pulled for existing construction unless part of a major remodel). Squarely put a lot of pressure fell on everyone involved, perhaps most of all the ho9me inspector – the only person who really had to make the call ( safe/unsafe, to standards/not to standards) there was always a winner and a loser. In 2006, the American Wood Council released the DCA 6 – Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide. The Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide is fantastic. If you build decks, inspect decks, are planning to build a deck, or just want some great info on how to properly build a deck, download this free guide from the American Wood Council. So what is the point of taking the time to illuminate this issue? The answer is health and safety. At a minimum a deck inspection should consist of a visual examination of:
- Footings and Posts
- Joists, Joist Connections, and Girders
- Ledger Connections
- Deck Boards
- Handrail Assemblies and Guards
- Recognize proper and improper fasteners
- Assess hardware and material corrosion
I’ve never inspected a deck (mine included) that didn’t need at least one or two repairs. Deck inspections are important annual maintenance items. I offer them for $150 to existing clients and $350 to new clients – or they are included in a home inspection. The only reliable statistics on Injury comes from a Study conducted by the CSPC and Legacy services LLC (click here to read full study). It is a sobering read summarized in this table of data from 2003-2007:
I will end this with the brief conclusion from the study:
Outdoor living became popular about 35 years ago and continues to grow in popularity. Estimates show there are more than 40 million existing decks in the U.S. As with any outdoor structure, porches and decks are exposed to the elements 365 days a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. All things have a finite life and this is especially true with any structure exposed to the weather. Most deck experts, approximate the average life of a deck to be 10-15 years.6 It is estimated there are more than 20 million decks and porches in the U.S. that are older than 15 years.
Based on the statistics from the CPSC, 224,000 people were injured nationally due to a deck or porch over the study’s five-year period. Of those injuries, 33,000 were a result of a structural failure or collapse.
The estimate for “serious” injuries resulting from those failures exceeds 18,000. Serious injuries included head trauma, concussion, major fractures, such as those associated with the back, and paralysis.
Legacy believes most injuries are preventable with proper deck inspection each year by a qualified professional. The obvious signs of wood decay and deterioration should be taken seriously and the structure replaced if necessary.
Given the 10-15 year lifespan, the fact that wood decks and porches naturally deteriorate over time, and the large number of structural failures and collapses that consistently occur each year, a reasoned argument can be made that unsafe decks and porches are the cause of thousands of injuries across the U.S. Legacy Services, LLC recommends the immediate inspection of the existing stock of outdoor decks and porches as well as the repair or retrofit of decks and porches in order to prevent more injuries and deaths from occurring and to ensure consumer safety.
Get an annual deck inspection from a qualified professional for your safety and the safety of your loved ones –
If you have any questions please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
President, Rainshadow Inspection Services INC
237 Taylor St. Unit 2, Port Townsend, WA 98368
Office: (360) 301-2035
Washington Home Inspector License # 1799
Washington Structural Pest Inspector License #94987